Whether through artifice or accident Brexit through an Irish prism seems to have had provocation hard-wired into it since its inception.
The latest manifestation of this comes in the guise of new British immigration laws.
They will oblige non-Irish EU citizens living in the Republic to apply online for pre-travel clearance from the UK in order to cross the border on the island of Ireland.
The Nationality and Borders Bill has already cleared the House of Commons and now heads to the House of Lords. The move is part of the great Brexit ambition to “take back control” which spoke to an unease in the UK about the number of people coming into the country.
Little serious thought was given to how Britain’s departure from Europe would affect the North. The emergence of this bill suggests a dangerous blind spot may still exist.
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty cited it as further evidence, claiming the Conservative government in the UK “doesn’t give a damn” about Ireland, which is once again “facing collateral damage”.
Addressing his fears, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, said the Government will communicate its “concerns and our objections” to the UK over the proposal.
But Mr Varadkar also pointed out how it doesn’t “come as a huge surprise”. “Ending free movement was a big part of the argument that was made for Brexit,” he added. He also warned somewhat ominously that he expects the UK is “going to harden its borders”. “We’ll absolutely be making our views known,” he pledged.
No one wishes to dwell in the past, but it doesn’t do to ignore the painful lessons history has dealt us. In the week the 100th anniversary of the Anglo Irish Treaty was commemorated it seems extraordinary so little thought has been given to anything which might limit the movement of people on this island.
Back in 2018 as then foreign secretary, Boris Johnson was ridiculed for his blithe dismissal of EU concerns that leaving the customs union could lead to a hard Irish border.
He suggested that crossings of the frontier could be monitored by technology, just like travel between London boroughs.
“There’s no border between Camden and Westminster,” he infamously noted.
It is worrying to again see scant regard to managing the unique difficulties border visas could present. Setting all sensitivities aside: just how such a system would be enforceable is also unclear. SDLP MP Claire Hanna said the proposals were: “genuinely very problematic and fundamentally unsuitable for the way of life” on the island of Ireland. While not requiring border controls new levels of bureaucracy and legal uncertainty will arise.
Adverse impacts on tourism and business are inevitable. Whatever the future holds relationships between our countries need to be strong, and long-term damage should not be risked for short-term gain.
In the cauldron of the North as we know to our cost, the consequences of choices have to be weighed with consummate care.